Implications of the Lochindorb hare snare verdict

mountain hare by Steve GardnerThe almost four-year long Lochindorb Estate hare snare trial concluded today at Inverness Sheriff Court. The accused, former head gamekeeper and long-time SGA committee member David Taylor was found not guilty of illegally using snares to catch mountain hares on the Lochindorb Estate in 2009.

This has been a lengthy and complex case, seen by many as an important ‘test’ case. For previous blog entries see here, here, here, here, here and here.

The ‘not guilty’ verdict, however, only applies to the particular circumstances of this specific case. On this occasion, at that specific location and at that specific time, the evidence was deemed insufficient to merit a conviction. Sheriff Abercrombie accepted that Taylor was operating within the law and in good faith. This verdict though, does not mean that a future case with a different set of specific circumstances, could not result in a conviction. The verdict does NOT mean that it is legal to snare mountain hares in general terms; only within the terms of this particular case.

One of the key issues was whether a snare could be described as a ‘trap’. The prosecution said yes, the defence argued no. Sheriff Abercrombie deemed that a snare could be described as a trap. This is important for future potential cases.

The defence had also argued that the snares in question (the w-shaped snare) were selective; i.e. that they only caught the target species. Several gamekeepers spoke as defence witnesses and stated that in all their (combined) years of snaring, they’d never caught a non-target species using this snare-type. Whether you believe that or not is up to you – the fact of the matter was that the prosecution could not provide evidence to show that the w-shaped snare was indiscriminate. This should hopefully be a moot point in future cases as the use of the w-shaped snare to trap mountain hares has since become prohibited. Under the Snares Scotland Order (2010), it is no longer legal to use a snare in a way that an animal could become partially or wholly suspended.

The other important issue highlighted by this case was the lack of current scientific understanding of mountain hare population ecology in Scotland. We hope SNH will get their act together and implement an appropriate research and monitoring strategy for what many believe is a keystone species; i.e. one that plays an important role in the survival of other species such as the golden eagle and probably the pine marten.

BBC news article here

SGA statement here

Defence agent’s statement here

6 thoughts on “Implications of the Lochindorb hare snare verdict”

  1. A predicted outcome and total waste of taxpayers money. What I and I suppose everyone else can’t understand is why it took them 4 years to come to the verdict that most of us predicted when the case first came to court ???

      1. Hello Guy.

        They’re killing mountain hares for a number of reasons. An estimated 25,000 hares are culled every year. Mountain hares are host to ticks and have been implicated in the transmission of Louping Ill Virus to red grouse. LIV can cause high mortality in red grouse and so the gamekeepers/moorland managers are keen to reduce the effect. That the scientific evidence to support their theory is weak doesn’t seem to matter.

        There are also other reasons that they kill mountain hares. Some say they are killing for tick control, but others for sport, and others to protect trees and crops.

        If you believe what was said during the Lochindorb hare snare trial, then you’ll believe that gamekeepers are killing mountain hares to protect the general public (walkers) from getting lyme disease (from the ticks).

        There are others, like us, who are much more cynical and believe that gamekeepers are killing mountain hares to remove an important prey base of certain predators, especially birds of prey.

        Whatever the reason given, the bottom line is that mountain hares are being killed because our wonderful ‘guardians of the countryside’ believe it will improve red grouse numbers, and that’s what’s important. To them.

  2. A disappointing verdict but – while unfortunately there is no written judgment available – it does sound as if the Sheriff took pains to make it clear that this case turned on its own facts and should not be seen as a precedent.

    On the “indiscriminate” issue: It may have been stated in court that bycatch is rare – amazing considering the high non-target capture levels recorded in DEFRA’s report on snaring last year, based on “best practice” field trials. But indiscriminate capture surely also refers to capture WITHIN the target population. For example, how can a snare be set to ensure it doesn’t capture a pregnant or lactating female? (Bearing in mind this case dates from before the close seasons were introduced for hares.)

    Snares are specifically prohibited for use on mountain hares under the Bern Convention. If a state decides to make an exception to this it must be for good reason, subject to appropriate conditions and returns must be submitted so that the state can report to the COE. Yes, a licensing scheme!

    I don’t really understand why there isn’t a strict liability offence of using a snare for the relevant species without a licence. Surely it shouldn’t be left to individuals to decide what the law is about using non-selective traps for protected species? Are industry legal advisers able to judge the population status of a protected species?

    RPS readers may be interested to see that Christine Grahame MSP has lodged some questions which ask the Scottish Gov to clarify current legal position.

    S4W-12780 Christine Grahame: To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that it complies with the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats regarding the (a) use of non-selective traps to capture protected species and (b) the reporting requirements under article 9.2.

    S4W-12781 Christine Grahame: To ask the Scottish Government what the legal basis is for the licensing regime operated by Scottish Natural Heritage regarding the use of snares to capture mountain hares.

    S4W-12782 Christine Grahame: To ask the Scottish Government how many applications for species licences to use snares to capture mountain hares have been made since 2006; how many have been granted, and for what reasons licences were not granted.

  3. The only right & proper solution to this whole debacle is to impose a total BAN the use of Snares in the UK! These implements of barbaric & indiscriminate torture are long past their sell by date & have absolutely no place in the C21st!

  4. Absolutely Ptarmi, I too am near my sell by date but will not be retiring before snares are banned!

    Incidentally we also now know from Parliamentary questions that less than one third of the snaring operators in Scotland have attended the two-hour snaring course required to comply with the tagging requirements coming in shortly. From 1 April it will be illegal to set a snare without an ID tag and that can only be gained on production of a training certificate.

    1,376 snare users have attended the course out of a shooting industry estimate of 5,000 practitioners requiring training.

    It is unlikely that the remaining 3,624 or so will be trained by the due date, given that it has taken over two years to train the first third.

    It would be excellent if two-thirds of practitioners decided to give up snaring come April …

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